Utahns Against Common Core published the resignation letter of Utah high school physics teacher Stuart Harper today. The letter is powerful. These are the words of a noble man, and his resignation is a tragic loss to Utah’s school system.
When will our state leaders acknowledge the train wreck of Common Core and turn our state around? When will they read and heed teachers like Stuart Harper?
Read the full letter here.
“… After much research I know that the Common Core (CC), the way it has been implemented, and the reforms which have accompanied it are wrong. They are unsound, of poor quality, take power from local government, and further empower federal agencies and policy makers. Most importantly, their enactment was unconstitutional, both in Utah and in the nation. However wrong CC may be, my reasons for resigning are only tangent to this constitutional breech. I was aware of the core before signing on, and though I did not approve of it I gave my word in contract to teach whatever curriculum I was given.
In the summer of 2013 a personal letter I had written, stating my concerns with Common Core, was posted on the Utahns Against Common Core website. It was an opinion piece, not a scholarly review. I saw no problem with stating my opinion, it is my right as a citizen, at least so I thought.
A few months later, I was informed that the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) had learned of my published letter and was not happy with my opinions or concerns. Local school authorities were instructed to meet with me and put me back in line. During this meeting with the district representatives I was told that I was shallow, ignorant and emotional in the way I wrote my concerns and that by writing things like this I would create rebellion and insubordination across the district. I was told I can have an opinion with other state’s educational systems but as a teacher in the state of Utah I cannot be concerned with my own state’s educational affairs.
I reminded them that my intent was not to promote rebellion, but to simply encourage personal research on the subject and exercise freedom of speech on my off time, as a citizen and father. I was told “Those freedom of speech rights you are probably referring to do not apply.”
I was shocked, but I stood my ground. I made it clear that if I continued to be intimidated into silence that I would resign same day. I told them that I have given my word to teach what they want me to in the classroom and would continue, but I would also continue to use my rights as an American citizen to effect political change. They said I could share my research if I get my facts straight, but even then my job is on the line. When I told them that I would continue to research information from original sources as well as writings from those for and against Common Core they were confused. They discouraged me from seeking information from anywhere other than the USOE, and accept only their interpretations of the facts. I refused, reminding them that true education comes from educating yourself on all sides.
I was threatened on three separate occasions with professional action all because I stated my opinion. I did not resign at any of the instances where I found myself threatened because I realized that I had given my word that I would teach for the year, and I will not break my word. However I refuse to remain in an environment that clearly has no respect for the Constitutional right of free speech. I refuse to be a part of the problem.
Over the years the school system has fallen far below what it should be. The public school system is just that – public. It should represent those served by it – We the People. Each level of the system (classroom, school, district and state) fails to remember that its duty is to the people, not to the establishment. We should be representing what is in our students’ and our community’s best interest. Our current system expects acceptance and conformity to its decisions and policies by all of its teachers and administrators. Further, it expects this without questioning or voicing concerns and even goes as far as intimidating and threatening those who have differing opinions. Any society or organization that silences and discourages freedom of speech removes the possibility to express ideas, and without competing ideas we close the door on true education and open the door to tyranny.
… We have lost control of the classroom and continue to hand more and more power over to the government. Our current system no longer promotes learning, but rather focuses on training. It teaches what to think, not how to think. It is now a system of hoops for students, teachers, and administrators, and with further national control and regulations of education, these hoops have been set on fire.
I believe that until we can get education to become self-sufficient where it no longer relies on the funding and intimidation from federal and even state levels, until we can bring education back to learning how to think and not being trained for a test, and until we can bring freedom back to the individual teachers, students, and schools, our public system will continue to decay. I hope the system and its people can exercise the self discipline to do this, but where I cannot foresee this happening, my greatest hope for education now resides in home-schools, home-school groups, and in private education.
My hands are tied within this system. But I now know that I can be more productive on the outside. I will continue to promote true and correct educational principles, awareness of civic affairs, and our duty to be involved. I am going to be a part of the solution. Asking questions is the essence of education. All I encourage of others is to ask questions, seek truth and not be afraid to share that truth with other Americans who are willing to listen.
Mr. Stuart Harper
Teacher, Citizen, and Father”
The Utah teenager and her mother who decided to take a stand last week by taking screen shots and sharing them with the public –photos of the SAGE/Common Core writing test, hit some raw nerves. Over a hundred comments were added here, with more posted on Facebook, and almost a hundred thousand views of those screen shots were logged in a few days.
Why? Reasons ranged and tempers flared: Was the act of sharing screen shots heroic– or was it cheating? Was the test itself fair –or manipulative? Should the student be failed and the teacher who didn’t see or stop her be fired? Was the blog posting itself fair or manipulative? Is this all evidence of an improved education system that creates deep-thinking students, or the very opposite?
A few of the responders words are worth repeating and are posted below.
Former teacher Laureen Simper wrote:
“Author Ray Bradbury could have used a SAGE test with a prompt like this, in his book “Farenheit 451″. As another commenter mentioned, Bradbury wrote: ‘There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches.’
“I have questioned the motives of central educational planners for years, ever since I had school-aged children. That was when I learned about John Dewey, when “Common Core” was going by the name du jour: “Outcome-Based Education“. That was when I read the original Humanist Manifesto. John Dewey was one of the original drafters/signers of what I recognized as an anti-God constitution. I learned that secular humanism and progressivism were the idealogies driving education “reform”.
“Progressive central planners continually repackage education reform when “the ignorant masses” figure out what the true motive is: to manage the lives of those ignorant masses, because they’re seen as too ignorant to manage their lives for themselves. Sadly, as long as a shell game can continually be played with shifting appellations, all the sleepy little frogs go back to sleep, as our nice warm bath continues to heat up.
“The agenda to shift public thinking away from self-government started at least as early as the early 20th century. The Intercollegiate Socialist Society was founded in 1905. Its original members believed that 60 college campuses were enough leavening to turn social thinking towards government dependence.
“Originally, the movement focused on higher education. Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton, said that the goal of higher education should be for a young man to come out of university as unlike his father as possible.
“But the plan was not limited to changing graduates of higher education. John Dewey, a few decades later, said that the influences of the home and family are properly challenged (by “steadying” ) in the government schools. This came from the “father” of modern education.
“Those who have not connected the same dots will disagree. But I’ve read what I’ve read and heard what I’ve heard – straight from the mouths of the arrogant progressive central planners.
“Their motives are not pure. They plan to manage our lives of the ignorant masses, because they think that people are too stupid or too lazy to govern themselves. And the education reformers’ answer is not Jefferson’s answer: ‘…If we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. ‘ –Thomas Jefferson, 1820
“Education reformers today, from Dewey to Coleman, seem to feel that the best answer is to wrest that self-government from the people.
“It is a big deal that a 16-year-old kid risked photographing test questions, knowing what kind of retribution could be brought to bear if she were caught.
“It is a big deal that a mother, equally aware of that retribution, would get those photos into the hands of a group of warriors who have connected the same dots I have connected – putting these test prompts into a completely different, stark, sobering context.
“Those who are screaming that anti-Common Core crusaders are taking these test questions out of context need to ask themselves if it is not they, themselves, who are taking them out of context.” –Laureen Simper
Another commenter, Michelle, wrote:
“And this is how they test “critical thinking skills”: “Your argument must be based on ideas, concepts, and information that can be determined through analysis of the four passages.” Students must base their argument on four passages alone. No room for their own ideas. No place for the inclusion of information outside of those four passages. No opportunity to question the ideas and information given in the passages.
“One of the selections is a blog post. Yes, a blog post. “Why playing videogames better than reading books.” (That wasn’t a typo; that is the title of the post as written on the actual blog site.) I wonder if they don’t refer to Wikipedia articles as well in other test questions.
“The other selection is from Steven Johnson’s book, “Everything Bad is Good for You” which, according to a review by The Guardian, asserts that TV, film, and video games make us smarter, yet the assertion fails miserably to back up those claims with actual science.
“So apparently, when Common Core proponents speak of “critical thinking skills” they don’t actually mean teaching children to think for themselves or to critically analyze arguments presented in selections of informational text or even to carefully select reliable and credible sources on which to gather information to form arguments. Instead, they mean teaching children to write argumentative essays by cutting and pasting information and ideas from blog posts and pseudo-science.
Our poor children.”
A dad named Jared wrote:
“I review hundreds of ELA books & tests every year. I am seeing these kinds of two-sided “opinion” reading/writing assignments all the time now. Here’s how to recognize it:
- ‘Two sides’ of a controversial/political/social/environmental/values-oriented subject are presented.
- The material is billed as “balanced” because “two sides” of an issue are presented.
- The student reads both sides, then writes an essay promoting one side.
“… these kinds of “opinion” writing assignments are subject to bias by nature, because the author/publisher controls the entire argument. In the examples I have seen, the author typically gives a reasonable-sounding Opinion A, and an unreasonable (straw man) Opinion B. The child naturally gravitates toward the more reasonable-sounding argument, and thinks she logically came to her own conclusion.
“If test question writers wanted to test a child’s writing ability, while avoiding straw men and indoctrination (intended or otherwise), they could simply avoid controversial subjects for their material. Why don’t they?”
Just sharing Wyoming teacher Christy Hooley’s article.
Negative changes have been made to AP History, which analysts are calling “a curricular coup that sets a number of dangerous precedents…”
Read it here:
AP History Changes Lean Towards a Negative American Perspective.
A Utah High School student took the Common Core (SAGE) test this week. Seeing objectionable issues in that test, she thought her mother should know. The student took screen shots using her cell phone and sent them to her mother. Her mother passed them along to us.
The question given in this test asks whether book literacy is inferior to the playing of video games. Read it. Most of the passages that students must refer to, claim that literature is inferior, that it forces passivity or discriminates, while video games teach students how to be leaders.
Long live grunts and smoke signals.
The articles student must refer to in taking this test make the following devilish assertions: “books understimulate the senses” and “books are downright discriminatory” and books are “choreographed by another person [while video games are not]“.
These are mean pushes toward valuing video gaming instead of books –and they precisely match the pushy philosophy of Common Core creator-turned College Board President David Coleman. They also match the philosophy of Microsoft Owner/ Common Core funder Bill Gates. So it is no surprise. It’s still sickening.
In this “writing test” there is no mention (at least in these screen shots that we have) of any of the countless positive values of reading books: no value seen in the joy of receiving a story; no value in exposure to expressive vocabulary and imagination; no value to learning traditional spelling, composition or grammar competencies which hinge on book reading. There’s no mention of the value of learning humanity’s patterns by reading complex character studies in literature. There’s no mention of poetry, of the beauty of words, of the importance of cherishing our shared cultural history. There’s no mention of the truth that voracious readers become voracious learners and expressive writers.
Nope. It’s just down with books. If this philosophy isn’t an example of the erosion of students’ exposure to traditional knowledge, and of the dumbing down and impoverishment of school children, I don’t know what is.
What would the future would look like if students actually swallowed and lived by such a philosophy? Speaking, writing, spelling, and reading would utterly devolve. So this high school student’s choice to capture the test’s philosophies and expose them was an important act of civil disobedience.
Thoreau’s classic book, Civil Disobedience, says that individuals should prioritize conscience when conscience collides with law. Benjamin Franklin put it this way: Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God. Parents, teachers and students are dealing with the tyranny of the Common Core’s wrong-headed philosophies and with the tyranny of a now-national education system that’s oppressing individual conscience.
Think it through. Utah’s law affirms the authority of a parent to have the final say over what a student will learn. But education policies have become tangled to the point that today, only a 15-member parent panel has been allowed to look at the test questions, and these 15 are sworn to confidentiality. Even after the test, no one gets to see what was tested. Ever. Remember, too, that no parent or teacher –or even a legislator– was ever consulted prior to adoption of the standards upon which the test is based. The state school board alone mandated Utah’s adoption of the standards. The test and its standards are experimental, but no parent was asked whether any of this was okay.
Confidentiality surrounding high stakes tests makes sense in that it prevents future test-takers from knowing what the questions are so that they can not have an advantage over students who took the test without knowing these questions ahead of time. But there’s a problem when, at NO time, even months after the test, a parent may ever see what was shown to the child or asked of the child on that test.
This is an especially big problem in 2014, when much of what passes for education is blatant political or social indoctrination.
Case in point: the following screen shots.
First, here’s a list.
It’s a smattering of teachers’ names with links to what they have said or spoken. Their experience and research make a powerful, nearly unarguable case for stopping corporate-federal Common Core. They are current teachers, retired teachers, and teachers-turned-professors-or-administrators.
Malin Williams, Mercedes Schneider, Christy Hooley, Peter Greene, Susan Kimball, Paul Bogush, Laurie Rogers, Paul Horton, Gerald Conti, Alan Singer, Kris Nielsen, Margaret Wilkin, Renee Braddy, Sandra Stotsky, J. R. Wilson Amy Mullins, Susan Wilcox, Diane Ravitch, Susan Sluyter, Joseph Rella, Christopher Tienken, Jenni White, David Cox, Peg Luksik, Sinhue Noriega, Susan Ohanian, Pat Austin, Cami Isle, Terrence Moore, Carol Burris, Stan Hartzler, Orlean Koehle, Nakonia Hayes, Barry Garelick, Heidi Sampson; also, here’s a young, un-named teacher who testified in this filmed testimony, and an unnamed California teacher/blogger.
Notice that these teachers come from all sides of the political spectrum. It turns out that neither Democrats nor Republicans relish having their rights and voices trampled.
And alongside those individual voices are teacher groups. To name a handful: the Left-Right Alliance, 132 Catholic Professors Against Common Core, the United Opt Out teachers, the BadAss Teachers, Utah Teachers Against Common Core, Conservative Teachers of America, and over 1,100 New York professors.
These teachers have really, really done their homework.
I’m going to share the homework of one brilliant teacher, a Pennsylvania teacher/blogger named Peter Greene who wrote about what he called his “light bulb moment” with how the Common Core Standards exist to serve data mining.
Speaking of the millions of data points being collected “per day per student,” he explained:
“They can do that because these are students who are plugged into Pearson, and Pearson has tagged every damn thing. And it was this point at which I had my first light bulb moment. All that aligning we’ve been doing, all that work to mark our units and assignments and, in some places, every single work sheet and assignment so that we can show at a glance that these five sentences are tied to specific standards– all those PD [professional development] afternoons we spent marking Worksheet #3 as Standard LA.12.B.3.17– that’s not, as some of us have assumed, just the government’s hamfisted way of making sure we’ve toed the line. It’s to generate data. Worksheet #3 is tagged LA.12.B.3.17, so that when Pat does the sheet his score goes into the Big Data Cloud as part of the data picture of pat’s work. (If you’d already figured this out, forgive me– I was never the fastest kid in class).”
Peter Greene further explained why the common standards won’t be decoupled from the data collection. His words explain why proponents cling so doggedly to the false claim that these Common Core standards are better academically (despite the lack of research-based evidence to support that claim and the mounting, on-the-job evidence to the contrary.)
“Don’t think of them as standards. Think of them as tags.
“Think of them as the pedagogical equivalent of people’s names on facebook, the tags you attach to each and every photo that you upload.
“We know from our friends at Knewton what the Grand Design is– a system in which student progress is mapped down to the atomic level. Atomic level (a term that Knewton lervs deeply) means test by test, assignment by assignment, sentence by sentence, item by item. We want to enter every single thing a student does into the Big Data Bank.
“But that will only work if we’re all using the same set of tags.
“We’ve been saying that CCSS [Common Core Standards] are limited because the standards were written around what can be tested. That’s not exactly correct. The standards have been written around what can be tracked.
“The standards aren’t just about defining what should be taught. They’re about cataloging what students have done.
“Remember when Facebook introduced emoticons. This was not a public service. Facebook wanted to up its data gathering capabilities by tracking the emotional states of users. But if users just defined their own emotions, the data would be too noisy, too hard to crunch. But if the user had to pick from the facebook standard set of user emotions– then facebook would have manageable data.
“Ditto for CCSS. If we all just taught to our own local standards, the data noise would be too great. The Data Overlords need us all to be standardized, to be using the same set of tags. That is also why no deviation can be allowed. Okay, we’ll let you have 15% over and above the standards. The system can probably tolerate that much noise. But under no circumstances can you change the standards– because that would be changing the national student data tagging system, and THAT we can’t tolerate.
“This is why the “aligning” process inevitably involves all that marking of standards onto everything we do. It’s not instructional. It’s not even about accountability. It’s about having us sit and tag every instructional thing we do so that student results can be entered and tracked in the Big Data Bank.
“And that is why CCSS [Common Core] can never, ever be decoupled from anything. Why would facebook keep a face tagging system and then forbid users to upload photos?
“The Test does not exist to prove that we’re following the standards. The standards exist to let us tag the results from the Test.
“… Because the pedagogical fantasy delineated by the CCSS does not match the teacher reality in a classroom, the tags are applied in inexact and not-really-true ways. In effect, we’ve been given color tags that only cover one side of the color wheel, but we’ve been told to tag everything, so we end up tagging purple green. When a tagging system doesn’t represent the full range of reality, and it isn’t flexible enough to adapt, you end up with crappy tagging. And that’s the CCSS… Decoupling? Not going to happen. You can’t have a data system without tagging, and you can’t have a tagging system with nothing to tag. Education and teaching are just collateral damage in all this, and not really the main thing at all.”
Read more here.
I’ll add more two points in support of Peter Greene’s words:
1- First, the creators of Common Core and its copyright have openly stated that they work toward both academic standards’ commonality and data standards’ commonality –I suppose for the very reasons Greene outlined. Check out the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) –a Department of Education/private CCSSO partnered enterprise, here.
2– Second, the federal grants that the states all swallowed, the data mining capability-hooks embedded in the juicy worm of funding, called “State Longitudinal Database System” grants, did specify that states MUST use interoperable data standards (search for SIF Framework, PESC model, CEDS standards, NDCM model) to track educational progress.
In other words, the 50 individual states’ database systems were designed so that they can, if states are foolish enough to do so, fully pool student and workforce data for governments or corporations– on an national or international level.
(Wendy Hart is a current member of the Alpine School Board, Alpine, Utah. She is running for re-election. Please, if you live in ASD District, vote for her, as she is one of the few truly courageous, truly principled, outspoken and extremely knowledgable school board members in the entire state of Utah.)
SAGE State Tests
Can I opt out of testing? I was told that it was required that my student take the SAGE test.
The schools are legally required to administer
the test (http://le.utah.gov/code/TITLE53A/htm/53A01_061100.htm
). The parents are not legally required to have their kids take the test. You may also cite matters of conscience, if you so choose, in opting your child out.
If I opt out, will my student receive a non-proficient score?
Yes and no. Yes, the state will provide the districts with a score of a 1 for all opt outs on SAGE. The districts can remove this information before inputting it into their computer system. Alpine School District will remove the non-proficient score. For more information on this question, click here
In short, the non-proficient score will not be used in any way by the district that could negatively affect your kid.
Will schools become failing schools? What does the 95% participation rate mean?
Students who formally opt out and aren’t just absent for 6 weeks, will NOT affect the 95% participation rate required under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Students who are absent will affect the participation rate. If a school doesn’t obtain a 95% participation rate, they are considered failing under No Child Left Behind. (So opt out. Don’t just keep them home for 6 weeks.)
Does opting out punish teachers or schools?
Unfortunately, yes. However, the State Office of Education has indicated they will adjust their grading system if enough kids are opted out that it negatively impacts teachers and schools. So, if your student opts out and would normally pass the test, instead of getting whatever score they normally would receive, the State Board has indicated a 1 (non-proficient) will be used in place of a non-score for purposes of teacher and school grades. This is unfair, wrong, and completely inaccurate. If you opt your kid out, contact the State Board and ask them to change their grading system. Reassure your teacher that you are doing this, and ask him/her to contact the State Board as well.
Will my school lose funding if I opt out?
Schools do not have any funding tied to the tests. There are No Child Left Behind consequences should a school fall below the 95% participation rate (see above). But opting out doesn’t affect that rate. While state law requires school and teacher grading, there is no funding WHATSOEVER tied to those grades. How do I opt out?
Communicate with your teacher(s) and your principal(s) about your wishes, in writing. Ask the teacher(s) how they would like to handle it. In one instance, a teacher provided a paper and pencil final exam to my kid. In another instance, I was provided the testing schedule and asked to check my student out. Be willing to do whatever the teacher requests, as he/she is working to fulfill your desires in your child’s best interest. Alpine School District has provided an opt out form on the website (https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4LZ8teFSo0fcVBfei1tSGgwcDVjUWpKZTFQV0hXd1JxRjZz/edit
Will the teacher lose his/her job?
No. Any district or charter school that would incorrectly assign blame to a teacher for the actions of the parents exercising their natural rights to direct the education of their child in this matter has a board and an administration who need to be replaced. The State Office of Education (see above) has indicated they will change the rules on school grading (something the State Board of Education could do at any time) should it negatively impact schools and teachers.
Why won’t the State Board change their grading system now? Why are they waiting?
There is no formal reasoning that I’m aware of. This is the way it’s always been done. Ask them why they won’t. If they won’t do it, my only possible conclusion is they want to force parents to comply with taking the tests, and are using the teachers and schools as leverage against parents. It also creates a bad system where they are, unfortunately, creating adversaries of the two entities, parents and teachers, who should be working together for a child’s education. Explain this to your child’s teacher. Please write the State Board and ask them to change the grading system.
With all these hoops and pressure, why do some parents want to opt out? Why not just go along?
There are many reasons why parents would want to opt out. Some of them are:
- Data privacy isn’t guaranteed.
- Opposition to high-stakes testing.
- Opposition to teacher/school grading, based on a single test
- Inability to view test questions
- Discomfort with the mission and contract of our test provider, American Institutes for Research
- Concern of the possible use of behavioral indicators (not prohibited by state law or by the contract)
- Concern that a teacher’s professional judgement and interaction over 180 days in a classroom will be reduced to a single set of scores on a test that parents don’t control
- Reducing classroom instruction to teaching to the test, or ONLY to the standards.
- Individual concerns: student IEP’s, test anxiety, etc
Just because a parents doesn’t want their student to take the test doesn’t mean that we, as a society, must agree with and approve of that parent’s reasons. State Code says: ” Under both the United States Constitution and the constitution of this state, aparent possesses a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of the parent’s children.” It is your right and your responsibility to properly care for your child. In a free country, that means you shouldn’t need the State’s permission to decide your child won’t take a test.
Thank you, Wendy Hart.